Eastern philosophy promises hope for Western women with eating disorders

January 12, 2007

A psychological technique based on Buddhist philosophy and practice may provide a solution for women who struggle with binge eating and bulimia.

The technique known as 'mindfulness' is being taught to Queensland women to help them understand and deal with the emotions that trigger their binges.

Unlike many therapies for eating disorders, there is less focus on food and controlling eating and more on providing freedom from negative thoughts and emotions.

Griffith University psychologists Michelle Hanisch and Angela Morgan said women who binged were often high-achievers and perfectionists.

When such women perceived they didn't measure up to self-imposed standards or were not in control of situations, they indulged in secretive eating binges. A typical late-night binge could involve four litres of icecream and a couple of packets of chocolate biscuits, Ms Hanisch said.

"Many women develop elaborate methods of hiding the evidence of their binges and some feel so guilty afterwards they also induce vomiting, overuse laxatives or exercise excessively to counteract the effects of the binge," she said.

"Binge eating is largely a distraction - a temporary escape from events and emotions that nevertheless can cause long-term physical problems including electrolyte imbalances. Instead, women need to learn how to react in a different way."

Mindfulness involves exercises similar to meditation that could help people live more in the moment, develop a healthy acceptance of self and become aware of potentially destructive habitual responses.

"Women who have been through the program report less dissatisfaction with their bodies, increased self-esteem and improved personal relationships," Ms Morgan said.

"They learn that thoughts and emotions don't have any power over us as they are just passing phenomena and aren't permanent."

Mindfulness has already been shown to be effective as a treatment for anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and the stress associated with physical conditions such as trauma, chronic pain or cancer.
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The eight-week program is being offered at no charge at Griffith University campuses on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane. Women who binge eat and are interested in participating in the program can phone 07 3735 3324.

Research Australia

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